No Gordian Knot

With Kathleen Sebelius getting named to head the Department of Health and Human Services, healthcare reform becomes the hot topic for Washington pundits.

The president’s budget obnoxiously makes a very small segment of the population pay for just about everybody else in his plan to reform healthcare in this country. That has never happened before. Social Security, Medicare and even Medicaid have had funding from a wide swath of the American people. In fact, most folks believe that the money they pay in from their payroll taxes goes into accounts that they get back in retirement benefits. Doesn’t work exactly like that, but it does encourage wide-based support for the program.

Careful with that Ax, Rahm

Former Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Howard Dean, a doctor, wants to be Health and Human Services secretary. And with the influence White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has with President Obama — Dean won't make it to the shortlist.

Senior staff writer Alexander Bolton had a great story in our paper this week about how Dean has been sidelined from the list of true contenders to take on HHS due to Democratic "family politics." And The New York Times reported today that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), Obama's good friend, is the most likely pick.

Bad Science

The past few days haven't been good for vaccine-autism conspiracy theorists.

Earlier today, the Special Court of Federal Claims ruled that no evidence existed that the MMR vaccine contributes to autism. One of the judges said that the parents had been misled by physicians pushing the theory, who were guilty of "gross medical misjudgment."

The ruling comes on the heels of The Times of London’s report that Andrew Wakefield, M.D, the chief charlatan behind the anti-vaccination movement, fudged his data to reach his discredited conclusion.

Abundance of Judgment, Dearth of Judiciousness

If former Sen. Tom Daschle’s (D-S.D.) mistake on his taxes was unintentional (as President Obama expressed last night), then he should have become the next secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Reasonable people could make the mistake Daschle made. He didn't create an elaborate leasing tax shelter to hide income. He said it was a mistake and apologized. That does not excuse Daschle from paying his back taxes or some sort of penalty (“Ignorance of the law is no excuse”), but it also doesn’t mean Daschle should be prevented from serving in the Cabinet.

Politicians aren’t perfect. They aren’t saints, and they make mistakes like the rest of us.

Daschle’s Loss is America’s Loss

It’s a damned shame to see Tom Daschle drop out of the running for HHS secretary.

Yes, he made a mistake, a dumb mistake, by not paying his taxes. But, as President Obama says, who hasn’t made a mistake?

Besides, given the president’s goal of making sure every American has quality, affordable healthcare — and given the fact that nobody is better qualified than Daschle to lead the fight — wouldn’t it have been better to stick with Tom Daschle than let him loose over a mistake on taxes? Absolutely!

I admire Obama for nominating Daschle. I just wish he had stuck with him until the end, or that both Obama and Daschle had chosen to stay and fight, rather than cut and run.

Dr. Gupta Accused of Malpractice

At first, he seemed like the perfect candidate. He’s the most popular TV doc ever: CNN’s handsome, articulate, energetic, personable Sanjay Gupta. He’s both a noted neurosurgeon and a media star. Who better to serve the nation as surgeon general?

I admit, when I first heard that he was Obama’s choice for surgeon general, I had a heart flutter. Perfect choice! But then other voices, who knew Sanjay Gupta better than I, started speaking out.

Top 10 Requests from Consumers Union/Consumer Reports

The Consumers Union (CU) protects consumers' interests effectively and with exceptional integrity, not just with Consumer Reports, but also as advocates.

Jim Guest, who heads CU, presents his Top 10 wish list regarding consumer matters. Good, affordable healthcare is one we all share. Here are two that are less obvious:

Insurance Reimbursement Nightmare

Doctors will have less and less time to see their patients, as the medical crisis continues to dismantle primary care. The problem lies in insurance reimbursements: doctors’ offices get paid by insurance companies, and insurance companies pay for volume of visits, not for time spent with patients. So offices pack as many patients as they can into one day, and doctors are left with an average of six to eight per patient. That’s not nearly enough time to cover all the things that could be wrong with the patient, both obvious and not-so-obvious.

They also don’t get paid for talking to patients, they get paid for ordering things — tests, procedures, etc. But a test is not worth anything if the doctor does not have the time to talk to the patient and figure out what's wrong.

Please, Please, Please Let Them Get What They Want

In the days after yet another major defeat for Republicans, there will be a lot of soul-searching within the party's leadership and I, for one, am content in knowing that they will probably take away all the wrong lessons from this momentous occasion. I'm just pleased-as-punch to see social conservatives looking for every chance to get in front of the television cameras to gloat about how their party dropped the ball by ignoring traditional values. I can barely suppress a grin when they trot out the line that we're still a "center-right" country.